1 Nephi 20:12-17 & Isaiah 48 — LeGrand Baker — Joseph Smith’s role in a Heavenly Council

1 Nephi 20:12-17 

In this discussion I have divided First Nephi 20 and 21 into the following subsections:

1. The premortal apostasy, 1 Nephi 20:1-11

2. Joseph Smith’s role in a Heavenly Council.1 Nephi 20:12-17

3. Apostasy preceding the Restoration, 1 Nephi 20:18 to 21:1a

4. Those who will help the Prophet Joseph, 1 Nephi 21:1-6

5. Joseph Smith restores the Temple services, 1 Nephi 21:7-11

6. The Gathering of Israel, 1 Nephi 21: 12-26


12 Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called, for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last.

This verse is the same in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

“Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called.” Isaiah is a name/title that denotes the covenants and covenant names found in the first verses of this chapter. However, he extends that by quoting the Lord in declaring his name/titles that denote the eternal validity of the covenant: “for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last.”

Jehovah is the first in birth, in rank, and in glory. His Father presided at the Council in Heaven, but he, Jehovah, conducted the affairs of the Council and made the assignments. {1} He was before the very beginning, as the Lord told Enoch:

And I bowed down to the Lord, and the Lord spoke to me: Enoch, beloved, all that you see, all things that are standing finished I tell to you even before the very beginning, all that I created from non-being, and visible things from invisible. {2}

Similarly, we read in Proverbs:

22 The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old (Proverbs 8:22).

The Lord is very explicit about his role before the foundation of the world and beyond. In the words, “I am the first, and I am also the last,” “last” does not mean until the conclusion of things, it means the uttermost. For example, he explained in the Doctrine and Covenants.

1 Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made;
2 The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes;
3 I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me (D&C 38:1-3).

13 Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens. I call unto them and they stand up together.

The King James Version reads:

13 Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together (Isaiah 48:1-22).

The Book of Mormon’s “and” ties his calling to their standing together, and thus describes an event. We will soon discover that event was a meeting of the Council. The Bible’s “when” is imprecise and denotes no specific event. We will soon discover the meeting of the Council has been completely removed from the Bible’s version.

In verses 12 and 13, with the words, “I am the first, and I am also the last. Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth” the Lord identifies himself as the God of Creation. {3} In the New Year Festival drama it was necessary that he be defined that way because in the ancient Near East, the Creator God was also the God who controlled the weather. Thus, in the Elijah story, the ultimate test of strength between Jehovah and Baal is that Jehovah can stop the rain but Baal cannot start it again. So it is expected that Jehovah should begin this one verse self-definition by saying he is the God of Creation.{4}

“Hand”{5} is used twice in these verses, and with two different meanings. The first is a symbol of the authority and power by which he created earth. Just as “word” is a name-description of the Savior in the Gospel of John, so “hand” is a similar name-description in the apocryphal The Book of the Secrets of Enoch. This book is the most detailed ancient description of a sode experience. It records that after Enoch had been dressed in sacred robes, the Lord said to him, “Enoch, beloved, all thou seest, all things that are standing finished I tell to thee even before the very beginning,” Enoch then saw the origin of all things. Then he showed him Adoil (translated “hand of God”) and the creation of all things.{6}

The second use of “hand” in this verse is “and my right hand hath spanned the heavens.” It declares Jehovah’s role in the Council in Heaven. In the scriptures, the members of the Council are often called “stars” or “the heavens.”{7} An example is the Lord’s question to Job:

4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the cornerstone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7).

The phrase, “my right hand hath spanned the heavens” tells a remarkable story when each word is understood in the fulness of its context. The writer is Isaiah, but the speaker is Jehovah who presided at the Council and gave assignments there. After defining himself as the Creator God, Jehovah describes his relationship with members of the Council in Heaven when he says: “and my right hand hath spanned the heavens.”

The right hand is symbolically and ceremonially significant. For example, when Joseph took his two sons to his father, Jacob, to receive their patriarchal blessings, Jacob crossed his hands and placed the right hand on Ephraim and the left hand on Manasseh. Joseph corrected him, saying that Manasseh was the oldest. Jacob said he knew that and continued to give the blessing. In that story, the right hand conveyed the birthright blessing to Ephraim (Genesis 48:13-19). That same idea is expressed in Psalm 48 where “righteousness” is zedek—absolute correctness in priesthood and temple things.

9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness [hesed or chesed], O God, in the midst of thy temple.
10 According to thy name [covenant], O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness [zedek] (Psalms 48:9-10).

Barton writes, “This term “fill the hand” is the term employed in the Book of Judges for the consecration of a priest (Judges 17:5-12).”{8} Those ideas are also beautifully expressed in these two other passages from the Psalms:

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great (Psalms 18:35).

Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth (Psalms 31:5, Luke 23:46).

“Sacred space” is a place designated (either by men or by God) as being set apart from the rest of the world – a place where man can go to meet God. Eden, Sinai, Solomon’s Temple—it is any place where God is but where the “world” cannot come.

The process of defining sacred space in this world begins when God gives the plan and the measurements to the prophet. The first step in creating sacred space (like a temple) is measuring where its foundations will be. To measure its limits is also to establish the limitations of the mundane space that surrounds it. When completed, its walls delineate what is sacred from that what is not.

When prophets create sacred space, the first step is that God (through the prophet) defines what its measurements are to be. Thus, Jehovah gave Noah the measurements for his ark; gave Moses the measurements for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant; gave Joseph Smith the measurements for the Kirtland Temple; and when President Hinkley first received the revelation about building many smaller temples, he sat in his car and wrote down the dimensions. The reason measurements are necessary is that they denote where the walls will be, since the space within the walls is sacred. Thus, identifying through measurement is the first step in designating “sacred space.{9}

People are defined as sacred in the same way that temples are.{10}

Similarly, in Isaiah chapter 40, in the context of discussing the foreordained responsibilities of John the Baptist, the Savior, and others, the Lord asks this question: “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span?” (Isaiah 40:12). This is not a rhetorical question, for a few verses later he reminds his readers, “Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?”(Isaiah 40:21).

In our premortal existence, by at least one of those priesthood ordinances, we were measured and thereby designated as sacred space. “Span” is important in both Isaiah 40 and in 1 Nephi 20:13.

In the statement, “My right hand hath spanned the heavens,” a span is the measurement. In the Oxford English Dictionary, a “span,” as a noun, is:

1. a. The distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger, or sometimes to the tip of the forefinger, when the “hand is fully extended; the space equivalent to this taken as a “measure of length, averaging nine inches.
2. “The “hand with the thumb and fingers extended esp. as a means of measuring.”

As a verb it is:

1. “To measure by means of the outstretched hand; to cover with the hand in this way.”{11}

The right hand is the hand of covenant and blessing. The Lord “spanned” the members of the Council in Heaven—measuring them to define them as sacred space—with his right hand—the hand of blessings, ordinances, ordinations, or covenants, or more probably of all four.{12} By placing his hand upon their heads, God measured, and thereby defined each of his children as sacred space—as “temples.” In this world, we do the same kind of thing when we place our hands upon someone’s head to give the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordain him to the priesthood, or give a blessing.{13}

In 1 Nephi 20:13, the “heavens” are measured and called to a great meeting (the meeting is described more fully in the next few verses) where they make covenants. The verse does not mention the covenants, except to say that “they stand up together,” but that phrase almost certainly has to do with covenant making. Congregations stood to make covenants, as when “the king stood by a pillar [of the temple], and made a covenant before the Lord…. And all the people stood to the covenant” (2 Kings 23: 1-3).{14}

Initially, when we think of a meeting in the premortal spirit world, we think of the Council in Heaven recorded in Abraham chapter 3, but this clearly is not that. As we read this account, it becomes apparent that this was not a time when people were presented two possible plans and asked to vote, as Abraham 3 is often described. At this meeting, the Savior was not the main speaker, and the fall and Atonement were not questions under consideration. The Lord’s servant who delivered the message was one who had been chosen before, probably in the earlier Grand Council. He had, and would again have, great responsibility and power. All the internal evidence supports the idea that the speaker at this council was the Prophet Joseph Smith. The following is a review of that evidence. Following that review we will carefully examine the rest of the material Nephi quoted.

Two things are necessary to understand 1 Nephi 20 and 21. The first is that the chapter break is artificial and not a part of the text on the brass plates. Nephi saw this material as a single unit and not as two separate chapters. The second is that footnote 21:8a is correct, and provides a key to understanding the entire block of material Nephi quoted. 1 Nephi21:8 reads: ..and I will preserve thee, and give thee [Footnote a.] my servant for a covenant of the people.” The first reference of the footnote is: 2 Nephi 3:11 (6-15) that reads, “Joseph truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up..and his name shall be called after me.”

All of that simply means that this entire block of material Nephi quoted—both chapters 20 and 21—is talking about the Prophet Joseph Smith and his assignment, and about those who either oppose or assist him in fulfilling that assignment. If that is true, then the following is one way the Isaiah chapters can be understood:

The setting is established in the fore part of the chapter. It is “in the beginning.” Satan’s challenge has been met and bested (v.11), Israel has been “called” (v. 12), the earth has been created (v.13) A great meeting has been assembled (v. 13), and the speaker (whom “the Lord hath loved” v. 14) has testified that he will fulfill his mission to overcome “Babylon” and the “Chaldeans” (standard Biblical code names for the evils of this world. v. 14).

The next verse begins the account of the meeting held in the premortal spirit world. The meeting—but more especially its speaker—is lost from the Old Testament. The brass plates version in the Book of Mormon reads:

14 All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them? The Lord hath loved him; yea, and he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them; and he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans.

The King James Version reads:

14 All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The Lord hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans (Isaiah 48:14).

Assemble yourselves and hear

It is the account of this assembly, which has been removed from our Bible’s Cyrus version of Isaiah 48, that now becomes the focus of our attention.

Because of the introduction that the Lord ordained (spanned) the “heavens,” it is reasonable to suppose that this was at the least a meeting of the members of the Council in Heaven. However, because the context is to thwart a general discontent and apostasy, it is more reasonable to suppose that this was a conference attended by all who are concerned.

All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them?

and hear

The command to hear is a directive to be cognizant of the words and to understand their meaning. Implicit also is a command to obey the instructions one hears.

Who among them hath declared?

who [the speaker].

among them [The members of the Council].

hath declared [Given the speech at the meeting].

That question is not a rhetorical one: Who, among those who are assembled, has spoken? As if to say, When you consider who the messenger is, how can you doubt the truthfulness of the message? This speech was not a soft and fuzzy sermon. It was a solemn declaration.

these things

Because the speaker was the premortal Prophet Joseph Smith, it is likely that we have the essence of the speech in the next two chapters where Isaiah describes the Prophet’s mission, the restoration of the temple, and the gathering of Israel. Since the credibility of the speaker is emphasized here, it is likely that the issue before the Council meeting was the ultimate success of the proposed plan. Paul described the full sweep of the plan when he explained:

8 Wherein he [Heavenly Father] hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:8-11).

How “in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ” appears to have been the issue in the meeting described in 1 Nephi 20. The answer lay in the assignment given to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Savior’s guarantee that through the integrity of the Prophet the Father’s will would be accomplished.

About “these things” which were the subject of the Prophet’s discourse, Isaiah gives no details at this point, except by inference. But he soon will.

unto them? [Those who are at the meeting.]

The Lord hath loved him;

It is clearly not Jehovah who is giving this speech. We learn in verse 17 that “the Lord” is “thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” As is clearly indicated in the next chapter, the person whom the Lord loves and who is giving the speech is the Prophet Joseph.

The declaration, “the Lord hath loved him,” is the key to these two chapters. Not only does it describe the relationship between the Savior and this servant, it also teaches us about the reason for the message and the motive of both the Savior and his messenger. It says the same thing as Ephesians 1:4; The Father “hath chosen us in him [the Savior] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Whose love? Both ours and his. This helps us understand why the Savior could give assurance that the honesty of the message was attested by the integrity of the messenger. It also gives us insight into the power of the word “friend” as it was used by the Savior in this mortal world when he spoke to Joseph Smith and some of the other young leaders of the church.{15}

63 Ye are they whom my Father hath given me; ye are my friends (D&C 84:63 and 88:2-3).

When we read that, we might reflect upon the depth of the feelings of John the Beloved when he refereed to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

yea, and he [The speaker.] will fulfill his word

He will have both the power and the integrity to do what he says he will do. The verse might be paraphrased as follows:

Be assured, when Joseph goes to the earth, he will have the power, authority and integrity to fulfill the promises he has made at this assembly. He will overcome, then supplant, the kingdoms of that future world, characterized as Babylon and the Chaldeans.

which he hath declared by them

By them seems to appear out of nowhere, and with no apparent referent. If it had said, “declared to them,” then it would be easy to understand; but it does not say “to,” it says “by.” It is no good going to the Bible for help, because that phrase is one that was removed from the Bible’s Isaiah. So the question remains, who or what is the “them”? There seems to be two possible answers. We like them both, but favor the second.

1) The “them” may be the ordinances and covenants mentioned in the beginning of the chapter. That would be consistent with Alma 12:30 which says people were instructed “according to their faith and repentance and their holy works.”

2) The “them” may refer to helpers in the pre-earth life spirit world who assisted Joseph in proselyting this most important message. Because much of what follows in the next chapter can be read as a long and rather detailed discussion of “Israel” who were foreordained to assist Joseph in this mortal world, we are inclined to believe that this “them” and that “Israel” may represent the same people. In other words, what this is saying is that the people (which includes us) who accepted the assignment to assist in Joseph’s mission here also assisted him there.

and he [the speaker] will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans.

will do his pleasure: His pleasure is to convert, not to destroy.

on Babylon:

The Assyrians at Nineveh, not Babylon, were the threat to the world in the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah. In this chapter, even Babylon is not the place, but rather it is a symbol, as it has always been, of the evils of this world. For example, the Lord uses Isaiah to describe the evils of our time:

5 Go ye out from Babylon. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.
6 Call your solemn assemblies, and speak often one to another. And let every man call upon the name of the Lord.
7 Yea, verily I say unto you again, the time has come when the voice of the Lord is unto you: Go ye out of Babylon; gather ye out from among the nations, from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (D&C 133:5-7).

and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans. (Chaldea and Babylon were essentially the same place.)

The arm that “comes upon the Chaldeans” is clearly a symbol of power. The purposes of that power were described by Daniel when he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure (Daniel 2:44-45).

As the hand can be symbolic of both majesty and love, so the arm is symbolic of both judgment and mercy. The promise that “he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans” assures the destruction of the kingdoms of this world, but his “pleasure” is to bring salvation, not vendetta; and his arm brings judgment so there may be mercy.

The “arm” of the Lord connotes his integrity in keeping his covenants. Whether expressed as the power to destroy or as the power to save, it is the same. The Psalmist rejoicing, “Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm” (Psalms 89:10), acknowledges the Lord’s power to interced that he might do “according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.”

Ultimately his purpose is to bless, however severe the intercession may appear at the time. The Lord explained that the severity of the language was so people would understand the seriousness of the sins. He said:

6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory (D&C 19:6-7, emphasis changed).

I believe that it is true that our loving Heavenly Father has never punished anyone. If he had, then part of his personality would include a vendetta, and that cannot be. Rather, he warns us of the consequence of sin, teaches us to repent, and provides an Atonement to enable us to be forgiven. Nevertheless, as Alma explained, it is “the law” not God which inflicts the punishment when the law is broken (Alma 42:22-23).

15 Also, saith the Lord; I the Lord, yea, I have spoken; yea, I have called him to declare, I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.

The King James Version reads:

15 I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous. (Isaiah 48:1-22)

Also, saith the Lord; I the Lord, yea, I have spoken; yea, I have called him to declare,

Jehovah’s declaration, “Yea, I have spoken,” conveys the message that he is the beginning—the moving power of all creation. Even though the whole burden of his message is an invitation to us to come to him, the immutable law remains: he works through his servants, and those who will not follow his servants cannot come to where he is. The law in the premortal spirit world was the same as the law now:

4 And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.
5 And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.
6 Behold, this is mine authority, and the authority of my servants….

38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
39 For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen (D&C 1:1-6, 38-39).

and he [Joseph] shall make his [own] way prosperous.

Jehovah testifies of the Prophet Joseph’s integrity as well as of his power: the Savior called him, and with the Savior’s help Joseph cannot fail. This poses another question: Who is this Joseph Smith, that his integrity is so great that the Savior can promise, “and he shall make his way prosperous?” We know, at least, that he was “among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God” (D&C 138:53-56).

The mission which Joseph would accomplish was eternal in its burden. Benjamin F. Johnson tells a story that shows how completely Joseph understood his own mission. About a year before Joseph was killed, he was in the Johnson home when, with a deep-drawn breath, Joseph said, “Oh! I am so tired—so tired that I often feel to long for my day of rest.” Johnson wrote:

His words to me were ominous, and they brought a shadow as of death over my spirit, and I said, “Oh, Joseph! how could you think of leaving us? How as a people could we do without you?” He saw my feelings were sorrowful and said kindly, “Bennie, if I was on the other side of the veil I could do many times more for my friends than I can do while I am with them here.”{16}

Orson Pratt testified:

The Lord did not raise up this boy, Joseph, for nothing, or merely to reveal a few of the first principles of the Gospel of Christ; but he raised him up to reveal the hidden mysterious things, the wonders of the eternal worlds, the wonders of the dispensation of the fullness of times, those wonders that took place before the foundation of the world; and all things, so far as it was wisdom in God, were unfolded by this personage….{17}

Wilford Woodruff assures us:

The Prophet Joseph Smith held the keys of this dispensation on this side of the vail, and he will hold them throughout the countless ages of eternity.{18} The brass plates contain a reference to the commission to speak.

16 Come ye near unto me; I have not spoken in secret; from the beginning, from the time that it was declared have I spoken; and the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

The Old Testament is about something different from that.

16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me (Isaiah 48:1-22)

Come ye near unto me;

This verse must be understood in the context of the previous one. The “Lord” in verse 15 is Jehovah, so the “Lord God” in verse 16 must be Elohim. If read that way, then verse 16 is the Savior testifying of Joseph’s calling.

I have not spoken in secret; from the beginning, from the time that it was declared have I spoken;

“The beginning” may be a reference to the Council in Heaven described in Abraham 3, but seems in this context to be to the time before that, in “the first place,” as described in Alma 13.

There never was a time when we were not wholly dependent upon the Savior. His invitation, “come unto me,” was the first heard by us as cognizant intelligences.{19} It has been repeated in each step in our progression, as often as we have forgotten. Like a clarion call in the night, it leads the one first to the way then to the summit. And the way is always the same: Faith unto repentance and the remission of sins, and reception of the Holy Ghost; holding to the rod while moving to partake of the fruit of the Tree. He is and has always been the Way, the Rod, and the Fruit of the Tree at the summit of salvation.

and the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

That relationship has never changed. The Savior is the “me” and is is identified in the next verse as “the Lord, thy Redeemer.” So we must conclude that “the Lord God” is his Father, and “his Spirit” is the Holy Ghost. It has always been important that we understand that relationship. The events of Jesus’s baptism were an affirmation of their oneness. That oneness is the key to our own. If we are to be one with the Father, we must first be one with the Son, obeying the Father as he does. He instructed his American disciples:

13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. …
18 And this is the word … no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom ….
20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me…
21… this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do (3 Nephi 27:13-21).

Again, the brass plates emphasize the importance of the relationship between the Savior and the speaker, while the Old Testament version removes the speaker altogether:

17 And thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I have sent him, the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it.

The King James Version reads:

17 Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. (Isaiah 48:1-22)

And thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel;

Isaiah leaves no doubt about who is speaking these words about the one who is giving the lecture. It is Jehovah—the Lord, Redeemer, Holy One of Israel. The word “Redeemer” includes the idea of kinsman, and suggests that he will bring us from where we are to where he is.

I [Jehovah] have sent him [Joseph Smith],

The Prophet, having been “called” and “brought” (v. 15), now may be “sent.” We understand from church history and from these scriptures that it was/is Joseph Smith’s burden to overthrow the kingdoms of the world, both in this physical world and in the post-earth-life spirit world where people reside who have died without receiving the gospel. His assignment was/is to establish, in the place of those worldly kingdoms, the kingdom of God. To do that he must teach the way whereby every individual may come to Christ.

But what were Joseph’s responsibilities in the world before this one? Was the purpose of that meeting only to promise things to come in our present world? Or is this world patterned like the last one in more than form and features? Are Joseph’s responsibilities here a continuation of his responsibilities there?

Another way of asking that question is this: Joseph is the head of this last dispensation. That included both administrative and judicial (kingly and priestly) responsibilities to establish the Church and Kingdom of God and to oversee its progression even after he died and went into the post-earth-life spirit world. The Prophet Joseph taught,

The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world. The grand councilors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds which were created at the time.”{20}

The question is: Did he, in the pre-earth-life spirit world, also have similar responsibilities during the planning and developing stages preparatory to the establishment of this last dispensation? President J. Reuben Clark explained,

The priesthood is an everlasting endowment. Some, at least, who have come to the earth had it before they came here.”{21}

On another occasion he elaborated more fully:

I would like to read what the Prophet Joseph has said, some of the things he has said, about the Priesthood:

“The Priesthood,” said the Prophet “is an everlasting principle, and existed with God from eternity and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years.” Adam (I am taking isolated sentences and passages) . . . Adam stands next to Christ, who is the great High Priest. Adam obtained his Priesthood “in the Creation, before the world was formed.”

And the following statement of the Prophet is, to me, most significant:

Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world”—note that—“Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose (said the Prophet) that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.{22}

I like to think that not alone did such men as Adam and the Prophet Joseph receive the Priesthood before they came here. I like to think, I can give you no scripture for it, I like to think that those of us who are set apart, chosen and set apart, to come forth in this the last dispensation of time, which is to draw together all other dispensations, had a like conferring of Priesthood though not perhaps a like setting apart. The Prophet continues,

If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord. ….

It (the Priesthood) is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time.”{23}

President Wilford Woodruff was equally explicit:

Here is a kingdom of Priests raised up by the power of God to take hold and build up the kingdom of God. The same Priesthood exists on the other side of the veil. Every man who is faithful in his quorum here will join his quorum there. When a man dies and his body is laid in the tomb, he does not lose his position. The Prophet Joseph Smith held the keys of this dispensation on this side of the veil, and he will hold them throughout the countless ages of eternity. He went into the spirit world to unlock the prison doors and to preach the Gospel to the millions of spirits who are in darkness, and every Apostle, every Seventy, every Elder, etc., who has died in the faith as soon as he passes to the other side of the veil, enters into the work of the ministry, and there is a thousand times more to preach there than there is here.{24}

President John Taylor explained the same doctrine:

Now then come the twelve and all the other authorities. We believe that they [Joseph, the Twelve, and others] are ordained of God, that they are part of his economy and government, all these various quorums as they exist on the earth, and that, by and by, when we get through in this world, we shall all assume our proper position and proper Priesthood, with Joseph Smith at the head of this dispensation, and that we shall be associated there with that Priesthood that we have been connected with here.{25}

Erastus Snow gave it an even wider application:

Paul tells us concerning the Melchizedek Priesthood, that it is after the order of an endless life, without beginning of days or end of years; or, in other words, that it is eternal; that it ministers in time and also in eternity. Peter, James and John and their fellow-laborers still minister in their Priesthood on the other side of the veil; and Joseph Smith and his fellow-brethren still minister in their office and calling under the counsel and direction of the same Peter, James and John who ministered on earth, and who conferred upon Joseph the keys of their Priesthood; and all the Elders of this dispensation who prove faithful and magnify their calling in the flesh will, when they pass hence, continue their labors in the spirit world, retaining the same holy character and high responsibility that they assume here.{26}

Alma taught the same doctrine. He took us back to the earliest time. Rather than projecting priesthood callings from the present into the future, he projected them from the eternal past into the earthly present, then beyond..

6 And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—
7 This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things—
8 Now they were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—
9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen (Alma 13:6-9).

If Joseph was ordained to his mission in the Grand Council, did he also function in that calling and priesthood between the time of his ordination and the time he came to this world? Or did he actually begin before that, as B.H Roberts’s musings imply?

Do these higher intelligences of the stellar universe and planetary systems have so developed in themselves the quality of love that makes it possible to think of them as being willing to sacrifice themselves–to empty themselves in sacrifice to bring to pass the welfare of others whom they may esteem to be the undeveloped intelligences of the universe and may they not be capable of giving the last full measure of sacrifice to bring to pass the higher development of the “lowly” when no other means of uplift can be serviceable? Is the great truth operative among these untold millions of intelligences that greater love hath no intelligence for another than this, that he would give his life in the service of kindred intelligences when no other means of helpfulness is possible?{27}

the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit,

How profit? For Isaiah, as for Nephi and others, the Lord’s promise of the riches of the earth is symbolic of the promise of eternal life. Three examples are:

1)The Savior’s saying that the meek will inherit the earth, in the 3 Nephi 12:5, Psalm 25:9-14, Psalm 37:11, and Doctrine and Covenants 88:17-18.

2) The symbolism in the Book of Mormon which equates being in the “promised land” with being in the presence of God. See 1 Nephi 2:19-22 for example.

3) The symbolism which equates the fruit of the vine and the richness of the earth with the waters and the fruit of life, which he uses, in turn, to represent the saving ordinances of the temple.

who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it.

“Way” and “path” often refer to the series of ordinances by which one ascends the “mountain.” It probably means that in this case also. The Savior is the Way and the Word.

In the Savior’s declaration, “I have sent him,” he places Joseph’s mission squarely in the context of the temple. If one is ever to understand the Prophet Joseph Smith, one must understand him in the light of the temple.

The phrase “leadeth thee by the way thou should go” suggests all the things Lehi’s vision teaches us that Christ is the word on which we may hold to lead us through the darkness, through the ordinances and the veil of Solomon’s Temple, until we reach the tree. It seems that he is saying no less about this world than he might say about that one.


{1} For a discussion of the Council in Heaven see above, Lehi’s sode experience in 1 Nephi 1:8-15.

{2} Secrets of Enoch 24:2.

{3} God does things in a perfectly natural way. The things he tells us in the scriptures are who he is and how to return to him, and those are the most important things of all. Prophets live in real worlds with real academic and cultural environments, and they speak to the people of their own time. All of their accounts of the creation were written to audiences who had none of the scientific questions we have—and, for that matter, none of the scientific answers. The prophets taught what was important: that God is the God of Creation. That the heavens and the earth were made and are controlled by him, and that his purpose was to bring about the exaltation of his children. That is what mattered to them, and that is the way they told the story. If we read what they wrote in that light, then their message is absolutely true.
If we try to superimpose modern scientific theory onto their stories, it doesn’t work. So our response is very simple: Accept each for what it is.

{4} A mirror image of this verse is Isaiah 40:12. There the chronology is different so the creation comes second.

{5} For a discussion of the ceremonial significance of the hand see Lynn M. Hilton, The Hand as a Cup in Ancient Temple worship. A paper presented at the Thirtieth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, held at BYU on 26 September 1981.

The power of the symbolism of the hand became evident to Baker soon after he came to BYU, he had the privilege of spending an afternoon alone in the study of the late Bible scholar and translator, Dr. George M. Lamsa. He sat at his desk, reading some of his unpublished manuscripts, taking some notes as he read. The following is from those notes:
“On page 34 of his unpublished work, ‘Origin of the Alphabet,’ Dr. Lamsa wrote about the significance of the letter ‘Y,’ which, he said, was the stylized drawing of an outstretched hand–fingers on one side, thumb on the other. Dr. Lamsa says that to the Biblical people, except for the eye, the hand is the most important member of the body. It is the hand which is most often exposed to danger; when any other part of the body is threatened, especially the eye or head, the hand rushes to protect it, without having any thought of its own safety. The hand feeds and washes the body; and, when necessary, tries to comfort and heal it. Thus, symbolically, the hand represents sensitive protection and love, but it also represents militant protection, power and domination. In a man’s relationship with other people, it is the hand that usually serves as the connecting point. It signifies friendship, and is used to ‘transfer a blessing.’ In our relationships with others it symbolizes both authority and reverent submission.”

{6}  Secrets of Enoch 25:1-2. For the quote in context see, R.H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, Vol. II, .443-445. See also John 1:1-4, Revelation 12:1-9, 1 Nephi 1:9-10, Moses 2:1-8, D&C 93:1-13.

{7} Stars and heavens are frequently used to represent the members of Council in Heaven. In some scriptures the word “heavens” refers to the place where God and the Council reside. Examples are: Genesis 2:1, 22:17; Exodus 32:11-15; Job 38:1-14; Psalms 8:1-3, 19:1-4, 33:6-9, 50:1-8, 57:2-11, 89:1-6, 96:1-13, 103:2-22, 104:1-35, 115:1-7; Isaiah 1:1-2, 14:1-16 (compare Jude 1:12-13), 40:20-25, 44:21-25, 45:11-19, 48:11-15, 49:13; Mark 1:10-11; Acts 7:54-60; 2 Peter 3:1-18; Revelation 1:1-20, 12:1-14.
1 Nephi 1:9-10, 20:13-17 (different from Bible’s Isaiah), 21:13 (not in Bible’s Isaiah); 2 Nephi 2:14, 24:12-17, 29:5-7; Alma 18:26-30; 3 Nephi 9:15; Ether 3:1-2, 4:7-9; Moroni 7:27-28, 9:25-26.
D&C 14:9, 45:1, 49:5-7, 60:4, 67:2, 76:1, 84:42, 104:14, 107:17-19, 110:10-12,128:23; 132:29-33, 137:1-4.
Moses 1:36-39, 6:41-45, 7:1-4; Abraham 3:21, 4:1-6, 5:1-4.

{8} George A. Barton, The Religion of Ancient Israel (New York: 1961), 159. See Ezekiel 10:1-7.

{9} Two other examples are Ezekiel, who carefully gives the measurements of the temple he saw in vision; and John, in the last chapters of Revelation, who gives the measurements of the city where celestial people will live.

{10} See J. Lyman Redd, “Aaron’s Consecration: Its Nature, Purpose, and Meaning,” Thy People Shall Be My People and Thy God My God: The 22d Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994), 120 – 121.

{11} The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1988, 2:2938.

{12} For examples in both ancient and modern scripture of the significance of the Lord’s right hand, see: Psalms 20:6, 63:7-8, 73:23-24; -28; Isaiah 41:10-13 -29; Acts; Revelation 1:13-18; D&C 109:71. Donald W. Parry, ed., Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994). The book contains several papers written by Parry that discuss sacred space. They are: “Introduction: The Meaning of the Temple,” xiii; “Garden of Eden: Prototype Sanctuary,” 126; “The Temple according to Judaism,” 414; “Temple Imagery in the Epistles of Peter,” 492.

{13} The idea of delineating by covering is also important in the definition of sacred space. When the Lord gave the revelations telling the prophets the dimensions of the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, or a temple, he did not just give the floor plan. He also instructed the prophets how sacred space was to be covered. Covering defines and protects sacred space just as the smoke covered and defined Mt. Sinai when the Lord was there, protecting it and keeping away the gaze of unsanctified eyes. When the Lord told Moses how to build the tabernacle, he instructed Moses to laterally clothe it in a garment of skins.

{14} “Stand” is sometimes read as code for making a covenant, as in Psalm 8:1,8 and Abraham 3:23.

{15} As in D&C 84:63 and 88:2-3, and
in John the Beloved’s describing himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

{16} Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Independence, Mo.: Zion’s Printing & Publishing Co., 1947), 97-98.

{17} Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 17: 187.

{18} Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 22: 334.

{19} For a discussion of intelligences see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 801-64; Second edition, p. 564-86.

{20} Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 348, King Follett discourse.

{21} President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, October 1948, 178-79.

{22} Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 305.

{23} President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, April 1953, General Priesthood Meeting, 53-54.

{24} Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 22: 334.

{25} John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 18: 81.

{26} Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses, 23:188.

{27} B. H. Roberts, The Truth, The Way, The Life (Provo, Utah, BYU Studies, 1994), 98.


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